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Ellen Percy Kraly, Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka, Brenda Frey, Kelsey O’Yong, Johanna Johnson, Janice Jones

The mountain gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei) is a highly endangered species with about half of the world’s population, estimated at 650 individuals, found in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (BINP). A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1992, BINP is located in east Africa, largely within the borders of Uganda. Increased human-gorilla contact through human population growth, agricultural expansion, and ecotourism has generated a new threat to mountain gorilla conservation – the spread of human-borne infectious disease. Prevalence and incidence of infectious diseases such as scabies, tuberculosis and other parasitic diseases exist as environmental health hazards to susceptible species such as the mountain gorilla. The research presented in this paper represents one of three components of an interdisciplinary research project to monitor disease dynamics in mountain gorilla that includes biological analyses of disease pathogens in the habituated gorilla and spatial analyses of abiotic factors affecting infection rates among gorilla.

This paper considers the interactions among population, health and environment in regions proximate to BINP. This remote park is surrounded by agricultural communities with a total population of over 880,000 characterized by high population density and population growth. As a basis for measuring human health and hygiene behaviors that affect risk of infection among both humans and gorilla, we present survey and interview data that have been collected in parishes proximate to one of the two entrances to BINP. These data offer us the opportunity to explore different strategies by which attitudes and behaviors toward population processes, health and community development, environment and conservation can be monitored in subsequent research. Preliminary analysis of survey and group interview data suggest that although many people in the region have heard of family planning and contraceptives through the programs of health clinics and radio, very few people use any form of contraception. The majority of the people in the villages surveyed assign a positive value to the mountain gorillas and the national park. There do appear to be geographic variations among locales in these attitudes related to proximity to the park entrance, and hence economic benefit derived from tourism in the region. The primary cost of gorilla is destruction of crops. Most respondents recognize that transmission of disease was possible from humans to gorillas, but fewer people realized that disease transmission was possible from gorillas to humans.

 

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